Earlier this month, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris joined 53 other attorneys general from across the country in petitioning the U.S. Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
The law, established in 1994, granted $1.6 billion for prevention and prosecution of violent crimes against women and was reauthorized by Congress in 2000 and 2005. In addition to sustaining current programs, the reauthorization of VAWA would allow for new initiatives to enhance professional responses and offer victims better post-violence care.
Though domestic violence rates have decreased 50 percent since the VAWA was first enacted, statistically three women die as a result of domestic abuse each day in the U.S. According to a statement from Harris’ office released on Jan. 11, California alone saw 166,361 calls reporting cases of domestic violence in 2010.
“We’ve made tremendous strides in how we deal with violence against women — from prosecuting violent offenders to breaking the cycles of crime and supporting and empowering victims,” Harris said in the statement. “But our work is not done and the Violence Against Women Act, and ongoing support, is critical to this effort.”
According to Maura Mitchell, CEO of Brandology and corporate sponsor of Domestic Violence Solutions for Santa Barbara County, domestic violence has only recently been recognized as a public issue after years of being considered socially taboo.
“Domestic violence is an ugly topic and people don’t actually want to talk about it,” Mitchell said. “Removing the silence around domestic violence in general helps everybody.”
In an effort to provide better survivor care for immigrant women in the U.S., VAWA has proposed offering a U Visa to grant temporary citizenship and allow the options of employment and permanent residency. However, Mitchell said many victims who would benefit from such services are unable to obtain them as a result of the psychological damage inflicted by violent crimes.
“[Domestic violence entails] coercion and control … some women get to a place where they can’t figure out how to take advantage of the resources,” Mitchell said.
UCSB feminist studies professor Leila Rupp said VAWA’s proposed effort to provide prevention education about sexual assault and dating violence will help address the societal stigma associated with domestic abuse.
“The focus needs to be on changing public attitudes about violence from the grassroots, providing women support … and changing the culture,” Rupp said in an email.
Kegan Allee, an advocacy support specialist at UCSB’s Women’s Center, said VAWA’s proposal to change the perception of violence among youth is particularly crucial as the images of relationships and gender roles found in mass media are generally male-dominated and rarely offer examples of healthy relationships.
“The media is incredibly influential in our thinking and development of norms and social attitudes … we see very limited role models,” Allee said. “We see the sexualization of violence against women where it is presented as sexy and romantic, rather than as something problematic.”